Aston Villa 0 – 0 Arsenal
A hard fought draw last night has come at some cost. The point itself allowed Chelsea to leapfrog into top spot with a two point safety zone, a gap which could be five by the time Arsenal kick-off against Manchester United on Sunday. In itself, that is not the cost. The real problems for Wenger came in the first hour of last night’s match. Thomas Vermaelen has scans today to ascertain the full extent of his injury whilst Eduardo has another hamstring strain to contend with, previous history suggesting his absence may be up to three weeks.
The former meant Sol Campbell came into the fray, Wenger unsure of whether the former England international will replace Vermaelen at the weekend or if someone else will, presumably Mikael Silvestre. The Belgian international left Villa Park on crutches according to his manager but whether his fibula is broken or not will become known today; an anxious wait for Wenger no doubt. The injury to Eduardo is of more immediate concern in that Arsene will have to decide pretty quickly whether or not it is serious enough to warrant a quick dip into the transfer market, perhaps a loan deal rather than permanent signing, with Nicklas Bendtner barely back to match fitness.
As for the match itself, Arsenal will be more disappointed of the two teams to have not won the game. Both would have felt equally aggrieved had they lost. Villa had woeful finishing to thank for ending the 90 minutes goalless – and the hand of Almunia – whilst the visitors were left cursing the woodwork. Stewart Downing had two glorious opportunities to make the evening worse but failed to force Almunia into even making a save. The first a tame effort over the bar came immediately before Campbell entered the fray whilst the second, perhaps the most criminal miss, saw him head wide weakly as Young’s cross evaded all to reach Downing at the far post.
It was a match that neither side dominated entirely; it ebbed and flowed with Arsenal coming closest to breaking the deadlock. That could have been different as early as the fourth minute, Agbonlahor shooting across Almunia, forcing the Spaniard to turn the ball aside. A frequent criticism of the Arsenal goalkeeper is that he cannot win matches with his performances. Last night, he may not have done that but he earned a point with the only save of note he had to make. Will it stop the critics? Doubtful but rather forlornly, there is the hope that it will make them think twice about condemning him so quickly.
Equally, Brad Friedel will be thanking the footballing gods for the intervention of the woodwork. Fabregas waltzed through the Villa penalty area as the interval approached, beating the Villa custodian with his shot only to see it rebound to safety from the base of the post. Rosicky in the second half was equally unlucky. Arshavin broke away from the Villa defence, his shot parried by Friedel, the rebound landing to Fabregas. The Spaniard set Rosicky who thundered his drive against the underside of the crossbar and before he could finish off the job, he and Ramsey got confused, the Czech eventually putting the ball into crowd.
It was a match high on effort but crucially for Arsenal, I think they missed Diaby more than any other player. The midfielder seems to excel in these matches, his workrate disguised by a languid style. He and Song are believed by Wenger to be doubtful for the weekend’s clash with United, Song apparently has a knock (and according to Wenger) looked knackered in Cameroon’s exit from the African Cup of Nations.
The injury to Vermaelen is worrying but until the full extent is known, there is little to be gained in panicking, running around shouting, “We’re all doomed“. The Frasers will have their day next week in any case if Wenger does not sign anyone, irrespective of the squads needs, wants or, if he so believes, the do-not needs or do-not wants.
The point gained is not two lost. Personally, I thought 8 out of 12 points from this run of four games would be enough to keep Arsenal in touch, ready to pounce. Two wins in the home games and a draw at Stamford Bridge will see that come true. It is interesting that Arsenal are being written off in that fixture, rather similar to last season. Let’s hope that the same result ensues.